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Background Briefing: Cambodia: Strikes by Garment Workers Lead to Three Deaths Carlyle A. Thayer January 3, 2014

[client name deleted] We are preparing a report about the ongoing garment worker protests in Cambodia and seek your assessment of the following issues: Q1. Do you believe the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) promise of $160/week minimum wage is achievable or would just lead to job losses/rising living costs? ANSWER: The CNRP promise to raise the minimum wage to $160 per week is not achievable as a single one-off pay rise. It would have to be phased in as the Ministry of Labour suggested in December when it offered a schedule to raise the minimum wage to $160 per week over five years or by 2018. Any pay rise would have to take into account the rise in the cost of living not just for the garment sector, which is huge, but other sectors as well. It is more likely the CNRP offer was a political one designed to win over the garment workers to its side in an effort to bring down Hun Sen. Q2. After the mini-crackdown yesterday, do you believe that Hun Sen is growing frustrated with the mounting opposition? ANSWER: The Hun Sen regime is fast reaching a tipping point. Sam Rainsy and the CNRP have been able to maintain relatively large public demonstrations over a period of time. This is a direct challenge to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Now that garment workers are on strike, disrupting public roads, the challenge to the CPP has risen. Up to today the police and other security forces have been relatively restrained. Hopefully this was a sign of sophistication in dealing with public protests. The killing of three protesters has raised the stakes. Was the use of deadly force a proportional response to rock throwing, sling shots and petrol bombs? The regime must try to accomplish two contradictory objectives at the same time. It must be seen to maintain law and order. And it must refrain from excessive force. If the three persons killed become martyrs then the CPP regime may face an enraged public. The longer the public protests continue the more they undermine Hun Sen’s legitimacy. Q3 Do you believe Hun Sen is likely to call a new election as a result of these protests?

2 ANSWER: It is unlikely that Hun Sen will call new elections. Although the Constitution makes provision for out of term elections in the event of a breakdown in the National Assembly, Cambodia is not a parliamentary democracy. To trigger an early election would be tantamount to admitting that the July 2013 elections were rigged. Besides, the CPP would come under enormous domestic and international pressure to mount free and fair elections, a process they could not control. Hun Sen sought a strategic partnership with Japan, Japan agreed but wrote into the agreement its requirements for electoral reform and free elections. China is showing some equivocation in its support for Hun Sen and the CPP regime with one media outlet printing a story calling for a referendum on whether or not to hold early elections. Hun Sen is more likely to make grudging concessions to make the next national elections more transparent than to call early elections.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Cambodia: Strikes by Garment Workers Lead to Three Deaths,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, January 3, 2014. All background briefs are p Cambodia: Strikes by Garment Workers Lead to Three Deathssted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.